Barbour speech stirs concern about inmate transfers

BY LEESHA FAULKNER

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson worries he might not have enough space to house prisoners in the adult facility.

Remarks at a speech by Gov. Haley Barbour last week in Booneville caused Johnson's concerns to shoot higher.

“He plainly said they were tearing down two units at Parchman,” Johnson told the Lee County Board of Supervisors during their Friday meeting. “If the plan goes through, we're going to have to put (inmates) in this board room.”

But state Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said he has no plans to close camps at the state penitentiary at Parchman. The only way he would do so at the Sunflower County-based prison, he said, “would be to save money.”

Parchman reported 4,794 inmates in its facility at 8 a.m. Friday, Epps said. Statewide, DOC housed 21,245 inmates Friday and another 25,000 were on parole, probation or under house arrest.

During the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, DOC closed four units at Parchman, Epps said. Housing for the four units was constructed in 1976 and only was intended to be temporary. Those inmates were transferred to the Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood.

Negotiating with Tutwiler prison

Epps said negotiations are under way with a private prison in Tutwiler to house maximum security inmates. If those negotiations go well and an agreement is reached, Epps said, then one more camp might transfer out of Parchman.

But Epps didn't make the speech, the governor did. Lee Supervisors president Bobby Smith of District 2 sees the governor's speech to area elected officials last week as a warning. “You don't have to be too smart to see he's trying to lighten his load,” Smith said.

A copy of Barbour's speech wasn't available Friday, according to Katherine Stewart, assistant press secretary to the governor. “He doesn't type up his speeches,” she said.

Neither gubernatorial press secretary Pete Smith nor Stewart attended the meeting. Yet, Lee County Supervisor Phil Morgan of District 1 said he did and confirmed what Johnson heard.

Lee County Adult Detention Facility's capacity is 202 prisoners, Johnson said. On Friday, the adult jail fed 260 adult inmates, including 25 at the work center.

If Barbour begins closing camps at Parchman, the county will have to look ahead at expansion. One option, the sheriff said, would see the juvenile detention center changed into a unit for adult female prisoners.

“We've looked at everything,” the sheriff said.

New pod an alternative

Another suggestion is to build another pod, or extension, onto the existing adult jail. Another pod would cost $4 million to construct, said County Administrator Ronnie Bell, with no possibility of federal dollars to help with construction.

But the cost of building an extension onto the jail is just part of the cost. The county would have to pay staff, which in the long run would cost more than the construction, he explained.

Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy of District 4 wants Johnson to look at alternatives, such as instructional programs for inmates. “We need some kind of instructional program, so they come out better in society,” Ivy told Lee.

Said Johnson: “We'd have to go through the state. DOC would have to approve that.”